The top 7 traits of highly effective CIOs (part 1)

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I have been a fan of Stephen Covey's 7 habits for a long time now. It has been very influential in how I look at the world and how I live my life, despite my constant failures to live up to the habits. It has also been influential in my understanding of what you need to do to be successful in realising the value of technology for organisations that I work with. You can see the influence of Covey's work in my ideas. For example, the concept of competence before influence is built out of Covey's private victory.

Despite this influence I have never sat down and mapped Covey's 7 habits and how they can help CIOs with the task of creating value from IT. The other day it struck me that this is something that I should do and so here is part one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective CIOs.

Proactive CIOs realise that while they may not control circumstances how they respond to circumstances has a major influence on outcomes.

Habit 1: Be proactive. This is all about taking personal responsibility and Covey takes "response-able" literally when he says that effective people understand that they have a choice in all situations about how they feel and how they act. Effective people do not let fate, circumstance, or other external stimuli dictate their decisions and actions. As you would expect with the first habit be proactive sets the foundation on which ask the other habits are built.

For the CIO habit 1 tells us that we need to accept and understand that when it comes to delivering value from technology we are "response-able". Yes, there are plenty of circumstances and stimuli in the external world that may make this seem like a difficult task however we need to be proactive in managing the circumstances and make sure that these circumstances do not control us or our actions.

Proactive CIOs realise that while they may not control circumstances how they respond to circumstances h

as a major influence on outcomes. Indeed, much of what a CIO does comes down to proactive influencing. That may be influencing the IT team around improving service levels, it maybe influencing your peers across the business that IT can in fact add value to them and their team and that IT has the capability to deliver that value for and with them.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. This is all about goal setting. Having decided to be proactive you then need to define what it is that you want to achieve. Habit 2 is based upon the notion that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint.

If you follow my writing you will know that I believe that the goal of the CIO and the IT team is to use technology and information to add value for the organisation. If you accept this as the overall goal, then habit 2 guides us to specifically define what value means for your organisation. You need to answer questions like:

?What is an appropriate level of service to provide to our users?

?How much money should we spend on IT and how should it be spent?

?What processes and activities can we enable?

?What decisions can we assist with through timely information and what decisions can we automate?

Then you need to socialise and agree the answers to these questions with your peers across the business and within your team so they understand where you are heading and what is expected of them.

Habit 3: Put first things first. This is all about prioritising what you do and ensuring that you do the most important things first. The most important things are those things that add the most value and contribute the most to our ability to achieve the goals you have established in habit 2.

Exactly what those things are will vary across organisations and over time however the hierarchy of needs provides us with guidance on what this should be depending on how mature you are and on what needs you have successfully meet and what needs are still outstanding.

?If the services you are providing to your users are not reliable and you struggle to effectively deliver your projects then you need to focus on improving your internal delivery capability so you can and do deliver reliable services.

?If the services you deliver are reliable but you are seen as being slow, bureaucratic or expensive then you need to focus on streamlining and simplifying your processes, your customer responses, and your systems.

?If the services you deliver are perceived to meet the user’s needs and as being efficient and effective then your focus needs to be on beginning to leverage what you have for the greater benefit of the organisation. A key step in this is to determine what is the long-term digital platform that you will create and leverage for the organisation.

?If you have created the code of your digital platform, your focus then needs to shift to how do we leverage this to add even more

The private victory. Living habits 1 to 3 form what Covey calls the private victory. When you have achieved the private victory you have the ability to own your actions and outcomes without the need to blame or justify. If you are anything like me catching yourself moving to blame or justification is an ongoing process. The private victory isn't so much about being perfect (and therefore practically non-human) as it is about catching yourself moving into blame and justification and then moving past it to a proactive response.

For a CIO and IT team you achieve your private victory when you have demonstrated that you are a professionally competent IT team for your organisation. I believe there are four key outcomes that show you have achieved professional competence and IT's private victory:

?IT services and stable and operate when and where users expect them to be.

?You deliver the vast majority of your projects on time, to budget and the solution is capable of delivering the desired benefits

?People from across the business (and customers of your services outside your business if appropriate) find you easy to engage with.

?You are fiscally responsible and manage your budgets and funds well.

When you have demonstrated that you are technically competent, your peers across the business will treat you with professional respect.

They will also begin to wonder what else you might be able to do for them and this will begin to open up discussions around creating the public victory - a topic I am addressing in part 2 of this article.

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Owen McCall is an experienced management consultant and CIO, and a member of the editorial advisory board of CIO New Zealand. Reach him through

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